Dr Hutch

Our Grand Tour suc­cess is feed­ing a very Bri­tish neu­ro­sis, says the Doc...

Cycling Weekly - - FLAMME ROUGE - doc­torhutch_­cy­[email protected]

It is get­ting harder and harder to dis­miss Bri­tain’s cy­cling suc­cess rate in Grand Tours as a co­in­ci­den­tal se­ries of sta­tis­ti­cal out­liers. It is be­gin­ning to look like it’s hap­pen­ing on pur­pose. I’ve spent most of the last decade pre­dict­ing that it will all end soon, on the ba­sis that, well, it has to. But I’m be­gin­ning to won­der if what we have now is the new nor­mal.

It’s not the first nor­mal. This is, by my reck­on­ing, nor­mal num­ber four in the long and gen­er­ally rather unin­spir­ing his­tory of Bri­tain and the world’s big­gest road races.

It could have been so dif­fer­ent. In the late 19th cen­tury, Bri­tain was a cy­clerac­ing coun­try of note. Bri­tish riders tasted suc­cess in the early run­ning of the Mon­u­ments, and dom­i­nated in­ter­na­tional track cham­pi­onships. Bri­tain could have had a Grand Tour win­ner, if there were any Grand Tours to win. The French were care­ful to wait till this era had stopped be­fore in­vent­ing the Tour de France. The French are clever that way. And why did it stop? Well, be­cause by then nor­mal num­ber two had taken hold. This was a phase where Bri­tish riders might well have been able to win Grand Tours, but pre­ferred not to. Why, af­ter all, would you want to ride 4,000km round France when you could do a 100-mile time trial on the Great North Road at five o’clock on a Sun­day morn­ing?

Es­pe­cially since you could ride the time trial for love, but they’d in­sist on giv­ing you money to ride a Grand Tour, which would sully the whole thing. Cy­cle rac­ing in Bri­tain was am­a­teur, it was no­ble, and ev­ery­one knew that it was much bet­ter than any­thing go­ing on across the chan­nel. The pro­found kick­ing that Bri­tish riders usu­ally got at in­ter­na­tional road events was cer­tainly in­con­ve­nient to this the­ory, but it was pos­si­ble to ig­nore it if you re­mem­bered that only a for­eign char­la­tan would de­sign a

course that in­cluded hills, or al­low the use of more than one gear.

This was an era when this very mag­a­zine used to re­port the do­mes­tic time trial sea­son in all its won­drous de­tail, while news of the Tour de France and the Giro d’italia was to be found in pocket-bible­sized type at the back on a page headed “For­eign Rac­ing”, and of­ten as not four or five weeks af­ter the event.

Nor­mal num­ber three dated from about the 1950s un­til some­where in the last few years — per­son­ally I’d date it to last Au­gust, but that’s just my own nat­u­ral pes­simism. This was the era of no one win­ning, de­spite the fact that by this point Bri­tish cy­clists would have re­ally quite liked it.

If you were a Bri­tish fan you had to re­de­fine suc­cess if you wanted to get through the sum­mer and re­main cheer­ful. Ei­ther you had to re­clas­sify a for­eigner as Bri­tish — Bri­tish news­pa­pers in 1987 in­vari­ably re­ferred to Stephen Roche as the “first English-speak­ing win­ner of the Tour de France”. Or you had to re­clas­sify mi­nor suc­cess as ma­jor suc­cesses — Chris Board­man’s small but tidy col­lec­tion of pro­logues per­haps — or, as was the case with a friend of mine, im­i­tate Sean Yates do­ing a re­ally long turn at the front of a team time trial (he would bend over into a TT po­si­tion and make a noise like a bear gar­gling gravel).

Nor­mal num­ber four, the cy­cle of end­less Grand Tour glory, is a bit dis­turb­ing if you grew up with the non-stop an­ti­cli­max of

“All this win­ning can’t pos­si­bly be right”

nor­mal num­ber three. So many of us were so well at­tuned to a place in the shad­ows that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion pro­duces im­poster syn­drome by proxy. All this win­ning, and a na­tion in thrall to cy­cling.

It can’t pos­si­bly be right, we don’t pos­si­bly de­serve it, but let’s hope no one no­tices. Not for a year or two any­way.

Bri­tish riders are on top of the world but mum’s the word...

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